|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Jenna Martin goes in for the score in a recent gamge against Bellevue. Highlands takes on undefeated Nelson County at 3:45 p.m. in the LaRosa's Holiday Classic at Conner today.|
Highlands has played in the annual LaRosa's Holiday Classic at Conner for six straight seasons counting this year and has not finished lower than third in the previous four seasons. The Ladybirds won it last year and in 2012.
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Should Highlands beat Nelson County, a match-up with 12th-ranked George Rogers Clark (9-1) in the winner's bracket semifinals is a possibility Thursday. GRC takes on Dixie Heights (6-6) at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Nelson County edged GRC, 54-52 on Dec. 22 in its own Franklin Family Holiday Jam. The Lady Cards have three players averaging double-figure scoring in junior guard Marly Walls, senior guard Shyla Calbert and senior forward Le Le Linton at 19.1, 15.9 and 10.1 points per game respectively. Calbert just committed to Campbellsville University. Highlands Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey said Nelson County is perimeter-oriented like Highlands.
"We will have to be very sound in our team defense and make sure we are aware of those three at all times," Richey said. "They are very aggressive on defense with a lot of different looks. They like to press and do a lot of half-court traps to make you play fast and force mistakes. We will need to take care of the ball and make decisions to put our teammates in good positions."
Nelson County has outscored its nine opponents, 633-398 on the season for an average of about 70-44 on the season including a win over 5th Region power Elizabethtown. The Lady Cards have made 241-of-562 shots for about 43 percent including 45-of-156 shots from three-point range for about 29 percent. Nelson County has also made 104-of-161 free throws for about 65 percent.
Highlands sophomore guard Zoie Barth and senior guard Jenna Martin continue to produce consistently averaging 16.8 and 15.1 points per game. But another teammates has taken turns with a big scoring game. Senior forwards Taylor Baioni and Lauren Epperson have had some of them and senior guard Emma Little is next on the team averaging 6.8 points per game followed by Epperson's 6.4 average.
"Anyone can have one of those games so if Taylor Baioni (for example) is scoring a lot of points, we're going to feed her the ball," said Chloe Jansen, Highlands sophomore forward. "But we're always going to pass the ball around trying to get each other open to make (the scoring) happen."
Highlands lost 73-54 to fourth-ranked Louisville Sacred Heart to open the season in its other game against the Top 20. The other side of the bracket has Corbin (3-7), Bishop Brossart (6-4), Conner (7-2) and Lexington Lafayette (7-2). Highlands owns wins over Conner and Bishop Brossart this season.
The Ladybirds have shown great chemistry all season. When up big in the win over Bishop Brossart, the Highlands starters cheered on their teammates.
"It was very nice to see," Richey said. "Our kids work hard in practice - all of them - so all the kids enjoy when we have success because they know its a product of the working hard each day and they truly when their teammates do something positive."
Highlands has hit 207-of-462 shots for 45 percent including 67-of-175 three-point tries for 38 percent. The Ladybirds have also made 97-of-135 free throws for 72 percent.
Rebounding continues to be a big key for the Ladybirds. They have 250 on the season for an average of about 28 per game. Epperson leads Highlands in that department with 5.4 and Barth averages exactly five a game.
Nelson County has 312 rebounds on the season for an average of about 35 per game. Senior forward Kira Harman leads the Lady Cards with 8.8 per game.
"We're short. Our tallest is maybe 5-foot-6, 5-7," said Morgan Coffey, Highlands sophomore forward. "All these teams have big girls. We just have to be bulldogs. When it goes up, we have to do everything we can. We have to use our bodies. We have to be smart. We have a lot of girls who are willing to go get the rebounds against whomever."
The Bluebirds (3-7) will travel just south of Louisville to play three games in the Magnolia Bank Holiday Classic at LaRue County. Highlands takes on the Daviess County Panthers (6-5) out of the 3rd Region at 3 p.m.
"That's part of the reason we do it so we get some time together and continue to grow off the court as much as we do on," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "We got a great group of kids. It's about learning to win right now and figuring out how to make those plays at the end of the game. We're not that far from being 7-3 or 8-2."
Highlands hopes to figure out how to finish games. The Bluebirds led Scott by nine entering the fourth quarter on Friday. But the Eagles rallied to beat the Bluebirds, 71-59.
Highlands has made 191-of-411 shots for about 47 percent overall including 64-of-148 three-point tries for 43 percent and 103-of-168 free throws for 61 percent. Opponents have outscored Highlands, 651-615 for an average of about 65-62.
Senior post Kyle Finfrock continues to average 13.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Senior guard Bryce Traylor is next at 10.1 points per game and junior point guard Braden Posey averages 8.8. Teams hurt Highlands pressuring them full-court and speeding up the game.
"It's about being calm in the moment," said Brad Greene, Highlands senior guard. "We can't rush when they run-and-jump (press) us. We just have to make the simple pass and get the ball across half-court."
Daviess County has outscored its opponents, 684-627 for an average of about 62-57. The Panthers have hit 204-of-468 shots for nearly 44 percent including 57-of-183 from three-point range for 31 percent and 124-of-164 free throws for 76 percent. Junior guard Blake Boswell leads Daviess County averaging 12.5 points per game and junior guard Jay Owen averages 10.3.
The tournament concludes Friday at 7:30 p.m. with the championship game.